There’s a lot that goes into maintaining the health of the various IT and AV technologies that keep your company humming … or slogging along, as the case may be. It’s not just the big issues that can jeopardize the health and well-being of your company. Left unattended there is a litany of small hiccups and forgotten maintenance duties that can be equally as detrimental. From software viruses sneaking onto employees’ computers to past-due tune ups on conference room AV equipment, it’s important that everything that touches an AV or IT network is safe, secure, and operating optimally. It’s a big job, and in some organizations the internal IT department simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to handle it all.
Of course, there are many outside sources that can come to the rescue to fix a piece of unruly equipment. But this is neither the most efficient nor cost effective solution for IT and AV snafus. Today, as corporate technology continues to grow increasingly sophisticated, hiring a managed service provider (MSP) to proactively monitor and manage the health of your equipment and networks can save time, money and aggravation, freeing up your IT department to focus their energy on other “more strategic aspects” of the business, says Angel Rojas, president and CEO of Brandon, Fla.-based Datacorps Technology Solutions, an ASCII member.
Although many, if not all, IT duties can be outsourced to an MSP, this doesn’t mean you, or anyone else on the IT staff, will be out of a job. “Using an MSP frees up some of an IT department’s time for more meaningful work. It doesn’t displace jobs, it changes them … and usually for the better,” says Jim Colquhoun, chief technologist at Avidex Industries, an MSP in Bellevue, Wash. Adds Mike Bloomfield, president geek at Staten Island, N.Y.,-based MSP Tekie Geek, “We’re not there to take away jobs; we want to be a crutch for the IT department.”
Benefits of Outsourcing IT and AV Management
There are many valid reasons to hire an MSP. Regardless of how big or small your company, the size of your current IT staff, or the nature of your business, offloading some or all of your IT tasks can have a significant impact on the productivity, efficiency and financial stability of an organization. Here’s how:
An Industry-Wide Pulse of Potential Problems: An MSP has curated a broad breadth of IT knowledge through its dealings with dozens if not 100 different clients. “When we see something happening with one customer, it may tip us off to a widespread issue that could impact our other clients, and we’ll go hunting and develop a plan for preventing the same thing from happening to others,” says Rojas. A typical IT department simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to research impending IT issues and implement proactive measures of this scale.
Lightening Quick Response Time: Small, minor operational issues can often spiral into major complications—unless you nip them in the bud. The nipping the bud part is what’s tricky for a time-strapped IT department. With an MSP backing you up and always monitoring the performance of IT and AV equipment, you can rest assured that if something seems off-kilter they’ll know about it instantly and be able to respond quickly to resolve the issue. Consider this example from Colquhoun: “We can keep an ongoing record of how long it takes for a display to warm up, for example. If we see a trend where it’s taking progressively longer to warm up, there’s likely a problem and we can take action to fix it.”
Operational Efficiency: MSPs are helpful to all types and sizes of businesses, but when an IT and/or AV network stretches across an entire university campus, for example, an MSP can minimize the effort and time it takes an IT staff to manage multiple systems. “We have a client that had eight full time people whose job it was to visit 200 or so conference rooms by 7:30 a.m. to make sure the AV equipment was functional,” says Colquhoun. “On a good day, their success rate was 70 percent. An MSP can remotely monitor systems of this scale, predict failures before they happen and get the systems up and running remotely.”
Transparent Support: Instead of waiting for someone to visit your facility to investigate and remedy a problem (a break-fix approach), with an MSP the fix happens so fast and remotely, you may never realize that there was a problem to begin with—priceless peace of mind. The monitoring of your IT and AV networks and equipment from an MSP happens 24/7—something that your internal 8-5, Monday-Friday IT staff may not be able to provide.
Trimming the Fat—Usability Reports: Let’s say your conference room is outfitted with several inputs into which various types of IT and AV equipment can plug. An MSP can monitor which inputs and which devices are used consistently within that room and which aren’t. You can use this information to maximize your IT dollar. For example, if you learn that Skype is the predominant communication tool of choice, you can get rid of the other less popular technologies—saving your company money.
Types of Contracts
Most managed service contracts are set up as a monthly expense. You pay a fixed rate each month in return for a certain, predetermined arrangement of services. There are two ways by which a managed services organization charges its monthly fee: on a per user basis or a per device basis. There are also hybrids of these two approaches.
“One size definitely does not fit all,” Rojas says. “For example, if company employees work in shifts, three different people may be using the same computer, so billing on a per person basis does not make sense. Conversely, if each of 10 employees has his or her own computer, phone, and iPad, billing on a per device basis is unwise. We customize our service management models to fit the needs of the company.”
Standard Contract vs. Customized: naturally, if an MSP will tailor its contact to your company’s specific needs, you’ll get more bang for your buck. “Make sure the contract has a clear, concise SLA and watch out for auto renewals. You should be informed month by month if you want to continue with the program as stated in the SLA, rather than being surprised with a contract that automatically renews without any discussion of changes to the level of service,” advises Bloomfield.
Manage your Managed Service Provider
If things seem to be running smoothly, i.e., no outages on the network, your MSP is probably doing a good job. But supplier performance should go beyond simply keeping things up and running. Be sure that the SLA spells out other parameters that affect pricing, such as the MSP’s response times, availability, and resolution times.
Also, ask for documentation of the services provided; for example, if the MSP functions as your help desk, be sure to obtain a report of the types of tickets and volume, the resolution attempts, etc. Your internal IT team should always have a clear understanding of what the MSP’s scope of services and if that scope changes without acknowledgment.
Extending into the World of AV
Traditional MSP models deal with remote monitoring and management of IT equipment: servers, switches, desktop computers, even networked printers fall into this category. However, many companies also have sophisticated AV equipment on premise for meetings, conferences, and presentations. Projectors, displays, speakers, amplifiers, and other AV components have become increasingly networked; therefore, they can benefit from the same IT-type of managed services.
“AV systems have traditionally not been considered a business critical part of a company, but that’s all changed as AV equipment is now able to operate like another end-point on a network,” says Mike Abernathy, Director of Business Resources, National Systems Contractors Association.
“The AV space in enterprise is not as mature as the IT space, so fewer AV-focused managed service programs exist. There are solutions that are very proprietary in nature, but more and more companies—like Avidex—are working on brand agnostic solutions so that AV equipment can also be monitored, manage, report, and remediate remotely,” Colquhoun.
The NSCA, in collaboration with Great American Bank, offers an MSP program to help NSCA members roll AV systems into a monthly payment structure. “Instead of asking a client for $100,000 project up front, an integrator can spread out the payment over the next 3 to 5 years,” Abernathy explains. “The benefit to the client is that their AV networks are monitored and managed similar to that of an IT network, and the MSP program is considered an operational expense instead of a capital expense. Plus, under the MSP contract, equipment can be continually upgraded.”